Kerry Neal (6-3, 230-pounds) wasn't a household name for Notre Dame recruiting fans, but his stock is clearly on the rise. Neal, a lifelong Notre Dame fan, committed to the Irish without ever setting foot on campus. Last weekend Kerry made the trip to South Bend with several Bunn coaches, including head coach David Howle.
"Kerry came up there and loved it," coach Howle said of Neal's trip to Notre Dame. "Dave Peloquin was our escort for the weekend and he just did a great job. I was so impressed with the facilities and you can tell they do things the right way.
"We met with coach Weis for an hour. Then all the coaches came in and met Kerry and shook his hand. We got to watch practice. Kerry got a chance to go in and sit in the meetings with coach Oliver. He got to meet the guys in the locker room. He got to meet the guy from Chicago that committed, Aaron Nagel. Kerry went on to the dorm with the guys. He had a good time hanging around the guys.
"He fit right in with those kids and Coach Weis and coach Lewis sealed the deal with him. Kerry said, ‘Coach, I'm going.' He was very impressed with the coaches."
Although this was the fist time coach Howle met with coach Weis he did find two familiar faces among the Irish staff.
"I know two of their coaches, coach Latina and coach Lewis," coach Neal said of the Notre Dame assistant coaches. "I know what type of men they are and they'll take care of him. I had met Bill Lewis years ago when he was at Georgia Tech and East Carolina, and we'd meet at clinics and all. I'd also been friends with John Latina. He had recruited an offensive lineman of mine when he was at Clemson. He and I go back a good ways, so seeing those guys was great. I was really impressed with the whole staff.
"Coach Weis, what a great guy. After meeting and talking with him they have what we have at this little high school, they have a family. You can tell they care about their kids. The kids care about each other and they're all smart kids. You could tell with coach Weis, kids just didn't miss class. He has a no tolerance policy. Knowing coach Latina and coach Lewis for so long, and after meeting coach Weis, I know those guys will take good care of him.
"Kerry looks like a Notre Dame kid," Howle continued. "He has character, Kerry could go in my house when I'm away and I'd trust him with my kids and my home. He's just a great kid. He's everything you'd want to coach. He's everything you'd want your son to be like. He's humble. I know he loved it up there. They do it the right way. It just sealed the deal."
The deal that needed sealing was Neal's commitment to the Irish program. Despite never seeing the Notre Dame campus, Kerry knew he always wanted to play football at Notre Dame.
"I think he had gotten a few letters before they offered and then some more after I sent the tape up," coach Howle explained of Notre Dame recruitment of Neal. "When we got the news [of the scholarship offer] we sat around here for a couple hours talking and he said, ‘Coach that is where I want to go.' I said, ‘Are you sure?' and he said ‘Yes, sir.'
"I didn't realize he grew a fan of Notre Dame, but he grew up watching Notre Dame football since the first or second grade. When he was a sophomore he told me that his favorite college was Notre Dame, but I didn't pay much attention to it at the time. He's always loved the Patriots and Charlie Weis came from the Patriots. He realizes that he's going to play defense, but the name Charlie Weis had a lot to do with his decision too."
Notre Dame struggled pressuring the quarterback last season. Neal appears to be the remedy for the Irish defense.
"He just has a great motor and the kid loves to be coached," coach Howle said of Neal. "He's got unlimited potential. He's so long and he has great explosion off the ball. He's 6-3, 230 pounds now. He'll end up being 6-4 or 6-5 and 245-250 pounds.
"Coach Weis said, ‘Kerry, you could skip your senior year and come in here and be a rush end for us. That's what we're missing, guys that can come in here and chase the quarterback. We have some good defensive ends, but we don't have anyone with your speed and explosion coming off the edge.'
"Coach Weis told him he thought he could play tight end too," Howle added.
Despite a Top-100 ranking or a wealth of scholarship offers, there is no question that the Irish staff pegged Neal as one of their top defensive prospects for the 2007 recruiting class. Since Neal's commitment to Notre Dame, other top programs have taken notice.
"Last week Michigan State offered, Nebraska offered. Alabama had already offered. I think everyone who watches the tape is going to offer. Notre Dame offers and then here comes [North] Carolina and North Carolina State.
"Its all kind of thrown us all for a loop. Michigan State called the other day and said, ‘We know he's committed to Notre Dame, but we're going to offer him a scholarship. We just saw his film. We watched five plays and called the head coach to get him to see it. We're going to offer.'"
Even though the recruiting attention has increased since he committed to Notre Dame, Neal believes he has found his place. The campus he had never set eyes on, was just what he thought it would be.
"I loved it. It was all I imagined it would be," Neal responded when asked what he thought of his first visit to Notre Dame. "The players told me about how the [football] season is and how the fans are and how great it is being around there. It's like no other school. There were random people that I didn't even know that walked up to me and said, 'Are you the guy from Bunn?' I didn't know what to think. I said, 'Yeah, it's me'. They knew all about me.
"It pretty much confirmed everything," Neal added.
One of the players Neal spent time with is a player that he'll eventually compete with for playing time.
"I hung out with Ronald Talley, No.99," Neal said of Notre Dame's sophomore defensive end. "He was pretty cool. He said, when he leaves, I'll come in and take over."
On Saturday Neal and his coaches had an opportunity to watch Talley and the rest of the Irish practice.
"They were really going at it even though the first day they only had on the shells," Neal explained. "The coaches told me I'd play defensive end and I'd be the speed pass rusher. He [Talley] is more of a run stopper and I'm more of a speed rusher.
"I want my original number, No. 12. I was looking for that when I was there and no one was wearing it."